Long Shadows, Lasting Scars

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Walking down a dirt road just before sunset, I noticed the long shadows made by pebbles and small rocks in the dust. I remembered my barefoot days of childhood and thought about how stepping on one of those sharp little rocks could leave a bruise or other injury long after the first sharp pain had faded.

Forty-six years ago, shortly after we moved into our second family home, I was clearing out overgrown bushes when I suffered a small injury. A branch I was holding under

scar on arm

Injuries that might seem small to others can leave lasting scars.

tension suddenly broke, and the sharp tip sprang back at me, raking down my upper arm. It did not cut me, but I bled under the skin, and to this day I carry a scar where I was injured.

Sometimes the injuries we suffer cast shadows that touch our lives for many years. Sometimes emotional and spiritual wounds can leave lifelong scars. The wounds might be accidental or they might be inflicted by others. In either case, we do not have to let the damage be permanent. There is a way to overcome it.

When I was a boy and hurt my foot on a stone, I would go to my mother for comfort. When I grew up, I knew how to put medicine on my own wounds. But rarely can we supply the salve for our own spiritual or emotional wounds. Treatment for these kinds of injuries requires a Healer—someone capable of applying spiritual medicine.

The psalmist looks to God for help. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3).

I am a believer in Christ and the healing power of the Atonement he carried out for our sins. In announcing his mission at the beginning of his preaching on the earth, he quoted this from Isaiah: “The  Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).

He healed by His touch, just as He can heal us by the way He touches our hearts. In the Gospel of St. Mark we read: “And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.” (Mark 1:31).

Jesus did not categorize people by their belief systems; He looked on their hearts. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) I believe God hears the prayers of all His yearning children who turn to him in sorrow and pain for relief, no matter what their religious tradition may be.

His healing may not come as an immediate cure or miraculous rescue, but answers come in the way that will be for our best good in this life and in the life to come, after we return to Him. We need to be still and listen for His whisperings to us through the Holy Spirit, to be still and feel His soft touch.

In our day He has given us revealed scripture that offers confirming, prophetic witness of the teachings of the Bible. “I beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; . . . And they are healed by the power of the Lamb of God: and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out” (1 Nephi 11:31, Book of Mormon).

The Book of Mormon and the Bible, joining together in their witness of Jesus Christ, are fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel 37:16-17 that the “stick of Judah” and the “stick of Joseph” would “become one in thine hand.”

“If thou believest in the redemption of Christ thou canst be healed,” the Book of Mormon teaches (Alma 15:8). This book is a witness to the world that to be fully healed we must accept Jesus Christ as our Savior. Its teachings offer salve for the wounds and sicknesses and hazards of our times. While He lived on earth, He revealed His way in word and deed to the people who surrounded Him. Now, to those who choose to receive it, He has given in the Book of Mormon reaffirming witnesses of His power to heal.

It is up to us whether we turn to Him for healing of the hurts in our hearts and spirits. The cure may take time and faith. But there is no other truly effective treatment for erasing long shadows of the past or the scars of old wounds.

 

Why Do I Believe? Consider the Lilies

Lily DSC00554 BLMatthew 6:28-30 has always been one of my favorite scriptures. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,” Jesus says to those hearing His Sermon on the Mount. “. . . even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Lilies are at the same time fragile and beautiful, yet earthy and sturdy.

Those who believe in evolution find many arguments—some real stretches of the imagination—to explain how every form of life on this planet developed from very small and simple organisms. Evolutionists have many rationales to explain how evolving organisms overcame this obstacle or that obstacle and became the complex plants and animals that we know—including human beings.

But for me, evolution can never explain beauty and variety. How did the plant know it

Yellow-headed blackbird.

One of the varieties of blackbirds.

needed to develop certain colors or varieties of color to survive? Why are there so many different varieties of birds, or lizards? If survival of the fittest was the rule, how is it that there are so many different varieties in the plant and animal worlds?

For me, evolution leaves too many unanswered questions. Those who accept only science as the explanation for all creation answer my questions with laws of genetics, physics, and astronomy. But all of their answers require a leap of atheistic faith in the end: You have to believe that what evolutionists postulate could have happened did indeed happen. And, of course, a god had no part in it.

I believe in God, and that this earth and all the life on it are His creations. I believe that He not only created a functional, self-sustaining ecosystem, but that He, as both the consummate scientist and artist, also made it beautiful for His children. (I have to say parenthetically that many of His ungrateful children are selfishly mucking up this beautiful world He created.)

Many years ago, as part of a school trip, I found myself in San Antonio’s Breckenridge Zoo with my high school biology teacher. We stood gazing at a flamingo in a pond when he said, “Anybody who can’t see that that bird is descended from a fish is a fool.” I gaped at him and answered, “Well, then, I guess you’re looking at a fool.”

Thinking back, I have had to admit he had a point. It would be easy to imagine how some of the organs and systems of the two creatures might be altered to create new life forms. But this does not mean it did happen that way, or that any such changes came about simply as cosmic happenstance.

In Matthew 6:30, Jesus went on to say, “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, . . . shall he not much more clothe you . . .?”

Faith, scripture, and a witness of the Holy Spirit tell me that He created the earth and its environs as a place to send His beloved children—all of us—to school. See, for example, Psalms 148:4-5: “Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created.” We are also told that God contemplated all His eternal spiritual offspring before this world existed and established a plan to give them a terrestrial, mortal home: “. . . we will make an earth whereon these may dwell: And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (See Abraham 3:24-25 in a book of modern scripture called The Pearl of Great Price. It can be found at http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org.)

I do not know how long He took to create this earth or what methods He used. He has not given us that information. But I believe that the creation followed a long-term, organized, celestially ingenious plan. He who planned it used eternal, natural laws that we only understand now at very basic levels. I hope that someday, after my time in mortality, I may begin to learn about the mechanics of this creation in some celestial classroom.

In the meantime, if you ask me why I believe, I may simply have to tell you: “Consider the lilies.”

 

 

“Cancel Culture,” Repentance, and Forgiveness

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Winston Churchill, who led the British in resisting Nazi tyranny, held racial views that may be considered offensive now. Should he be erased from history? His contributions make it impossible to answer with a simple yes or no.

Many years ago, I had a friend who cheated on his wife in a time of weakness. It could have ended his marriage to a fine woman who was a good wife and mother. But she, in the strength of Christlike charity, agreed to give him another chance. Within a year or two, my friend was able to turn his life around, becoming a stronger husband, father, and a good influence on youth with whom he was called to work.

Today we are living in a “cancel culture” in which people can be punished or ostracized for bad or stupid things they said or did years ago. This is often called “justice.” But it leaves no room for the mercy so badly needed by all of us flawed human beings.

Please raise your hand if there is nothing wicked or mean or stupid in your past.

Well?

Yeah, I thought so. Me too.

We all have done some of those things. There is one from nearly 60 years ago that haunts me still, something I said carelessly in a college class that left someone in tears. The incident puzzled me. I wasn’t mature enough at the time to understand that the words I chose might have sounded cruel to her and to others. Several years later, I was horrified when I realized what she probably thought I meant; it was something far different from what had been in my heart. But there was no way to find her and apologize or explain.

The best we can hope for with experiences like these is to learn and grow through them.

Today, well-known people often have past words or acts dredged up to be used against them. Lesser-known people often have their embarrassing, petty actions captured by the all-seeing mobile phone and broadcast for the world to see. Maybe some of these people deserve public punishment. Maybe some of their obligatory apologies are insincere. But what about those who really mean it? What about those who really have been humbled and learned valuable lessons? Should their careers or lives be destroyed because they made a mistake?

And do we have the wisdom to judge who is sincere? It seems we would be able to learn this only by witnessing their future actions.

We very often go wrong when we judge the past by what is acceptable or normal today. In doing so, we distort history. We fail to learn its lessons when we try to erase the parts that displease us. Some people never truly deserved statues or monuments, but if we pull down all the monuments to people who ever did or said something we find offensive, there won’t be any monuments left. We will also be saying that all the good those people might have done in their lives counts for nothing.

I know another man who spent many years in prison for crimes against children, punishment he fully deserved. He is not repentant now; I would be wary of having him close to my grandchildren. And yet—I am alive to write this because he was there to rescue me from a drainage canal I had gotten myself into when I was four years old. I was struggling not to drown. I can still feel the sticky mud sucking at my feet when I sank under water and touched bottom. He jumped in without hesitation to pull me to safety.

How could I possibly judge the value of this man’s life? I thank God that the responsibility of judging is up to Him, not me.

When we deny others the chance to repent, we break the bridge that we each need to cross ourselves. All of us have need to repent and be forgiven at some time in our lives.

We might think that some people deserve their comeuppance, people whose actions and ideas we don’t like very much. Maybe they do deserve punishment—but maybe it’s not up to us to decide how or when.

Or maybe they actually don’t deserve it. Maybe we aren’t seeing that this experience has shed new light for them and given them the motivation to change.

Either way, forgiveness is our best course. That way, we avoid the trap of self-righteousness and gain the right to ask mercy from God and others. (See Zechariah 7:9; Matthew 6:14-15, 7:1-5.)

In forgiving, we might be allowing some sinner to rebuild a life. We might even be helping to save someone from spiritual drowning.

 

Race, Equality, and Talking to Each Other

Decades ago, in a graduate level class on communications theory, I learned that we rarely talk to another person as he or she really is. Instead, we talk to that person as we conceive the individual to be. We talk to the Other—our concept of who that person is.

In talking with a group, we may speak to the Generalized Other—what we conceive that group to be, based on our experiences with and knowledge of individuals in the group.

This means, in my mind, that the more experiences and knowledge we have in common with an individual, the more likely we are to exchange ideas and beliefs clearly. The greater the gap between us in shared experiences and knowledge, the greater the likelihood of misunderstanding.

I believe this gap in experience and knowledge is at the heart of a lot of our current conflict over racial equality.

As an old white man, I wonder if there is any contribution from me that could be acceptable in trying to close the divide.

I freely admit that I will never face some of the abuse, roadblocks or challenges that African-Americans face constantly because of their skin color. I will never know some of the prejudices they have felt. Because of what people call my “white privilege” I am largely spared those things.

I believe that I recognize racial injustice; I have seen it at work in this country and others. I have always supported civil rights legislation and other legal and social efforts to insure that people of any color have equal opportunity and equal protection in our society. But apparently, believing this and voting for it is not enough these days. Simply saying “I’ve always been for it” could be criticized as “virtue signaling”—jumping on the bandwagon as it is passing by.

Apparently something more is required of me—but what, and how do I approach it?

In all my years, I have had relatively few opportunities to associate closely with black people. That was not by my choice, but simply because of where life has taken me. Except for one long-ago exception, my experiences with black people have all been positive.

I have learned from personal experience that judging others by their physical characteristics leads me into foolish mistakes at best, and at worst deprives me of opportunities to be enriched by other people. I have tried to overcome the human failing of making snap judgments about people based on what they look like; instead, I try to learn more about the individual.

It is very difficult for me to communicate with anyone solely as a member of a group—an African-American, and Asian, a feminist, someone who has a disability, or a militant advocate of any particular cause. It isn’t that I oppose their calls for change, but I don’t like to be judged by someone else’s sense of commitment to a cause, whatever it may be. Sometimes there is an implied challenge: Either you respond to this exactly as I do, or you’re the enemy.

Often I have been approached by ardent activists for worthy causes whose invitation to discussion goes something like this: “We need to talk about this problem—but if you can’t agree from the beginning that I am completely right on certain points and you are all wrong, I say you’re not serious about helping.” That doesn’t put us on equal ground.

If it would help to heal the ugly racial divide in this country, I would be glad to sit down with anyone and discuss the differences in our lives because we are of different races. No doubt I’ve got a lot to learn, and I’m willing.

But what I would prefer to talk about is how we are alike as children of God. How would the world change if we could focus more on our spiritual kinship with each other and with Him?

 

 

 

 

Race and Justice: What’s the Answer?

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I don’t know the answer. Why are we here again—another man dead needlessly, more violence and pain in the aftermath?

I lived through the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ‘60s, which were supposed to lead to our growing out of these problems. But that hasn’t happened.

Sixty years later, our country is still being convulsed by incidents related to the racial divide. Will we ever overcome this?

I remember one of my first up-close lessons in overt racism. I was 15, in a train station in West Texas one day, when I went to get a drink of water at the public fountain. Just as I bent over the fountain, I noticed a sign above it that said “Colored.” Across the room there was an identical fountain with a sign that said, “White.” What? We were supposed to drink from different fountains because our skin was a different shade? That was silly and irrational. I ignored the sign in front of me and drank.

Just one small incident? Yes–but at 15 it pushed me in the right direction. I may have been lucky that one of the local cowboys did not see me. Some of them took that racial divide very seriously. But I did not care. I had been taught differently.

Part of my family’s roots are deep in the old South. My mother’s mother was born in Louisiana in 1894 on what had been a slave plantation just 30 years earlier. Grandma and Grandpa freely used what we now politely call the “N word.” It was wrong, of course. Any kind of pejorative labeling of people is always wrong, and this word is especially ugly and damaging. It was something they had learned growing up in their time. But we can make a mistake when we judge people of the past by the standards of 2020. That kind of ugliness was not in their hearts.

My widowed mother and I lived with Grandma and Grandpa when I was a little boy because Mom had to work outside the home and she and my grandparents also ran a business together. When I was five, we were all in a car accident, and my mother and grandmother almost didn’t survive. Their recovery was difficult. A year or so later, Grandpa hired Rosa, an African American woman, to help Grandma around the house. I can remember complaining to Grandma once about Rosa, who had tattled on me to my mother. Grandma sat me down and gave me to understand in no uncertain terms that Rosa had my best interests at heart and I jolly well better treat her with the same respect I gave to any adult woman around me. Rosa, she told me, was a child of God just like me, and Rosa was precious to Him. Grandma had learned important truths about God’s love from an African American woman who helped rear her back on that old plantation in Louisiana. From that woman, Grandma gained a faith that her own mother was not able to share, and it sustained my grandmother for many years as she grew up. Later, Grandma shared it with me. I owe some of my early lessons in faith to a kind and generous black woman I never knew.

My grandfather, as a plumbing contractor, hired white, black, or Latino men, and if they gave him a good day’s work for their pay, he kept hiring them. He valued them for their contribution, not their skin color. I never heard him judge others by skin color. He spoke of them as human beings with problems and needs similar to his own.

By their behavior, my mother’s parents taught me more about the value of people, regardless of skin color, than any schoolteacher.

Once, Grandma and I had a talk about the Civil War and the end of slavery. The anger she felt about that conflict had to do with the way the people in the South were treated after the Civil War. Hypocritical northern conquerors, she said, were equally guilty of racism.

Current incidents indicate that racial problems are not confined to one section of the country.

Half a lifetime ago, I had the opportunity to travel throughout the South with a performing group of young Native Americans, Polynesians, and Latinos. Toward the end of their show, which featured music and dance from their own cultures, there was a moment in which a narrator made this point: We are not actually black or white, but we are all the multi-colored hues of Mother Earth. We are all children of the same God. And then the show closed with a song well-known to children in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “I Am a Child of God.” That song never failed to move some in the audience to tears.

Twenty-five years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Ghana on a work assignment. The people I met there were so friendly and kind that I forgot there was any difference in our skin color. They were simply my brothers and sisters in the faith. I saw African American families from the United States vacationing in Ghana much as I might visit the land of my ancestors in Europe. Though they undoubtedly enjoyed the culture in Ghana, those families didn’t seem more at home in Africa than I. One man I saw in the hotel restaurant kept calling back home to Detroit to check on how his business was doing. It struck me that even though my ancestors came from England and his from Africa, we were both natives of the same North American country.

It is a country in which we still need to learn to live together in peace.

In my lifetime, I have had a couple of friends who were policemen. They were fine men, dedicated to keeping peace in our community, and they were paid far too little for putting their lives on the line to do it. Unfortunately, there are police officers who are not like them. I can’t imagine either of those men ever kneeling on someone’s neck while he pleads, “I can’t breathe.” We need to find ways to weed out people who would do that, and any who do it need to answer for their crimes.

African Americans have every right to protest the ongoing depredation against people of color. I believe the rest of us need to be careful not to rush to judgment when protests go bad. Peaceful protestors may not be responsible for the incitement, and the violence might not be entirely race-related. News footage of rioting in my city seemed to show a lot of white faces—perhaps more than people of color. It would be interesting to know who those people were and what was their stake in confrontations with the police.

Yesterday I read a clear, compelling article by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about what African Americans are feeling when they are driven to protest. As an individual, I wish I knew how to contribute to the resolution of racial conflict. I fear that because I enjoy “white privilege”—a term with which I am not comfortable, even though I recognize its truth—my contributions might not be welcome. But I am willing to try.

White people who automatically feel uncomfortable when they see people of color around them need to get over it, especially if they call themselves Christians and hope to get into heaven. In my faith we are taught that Christ “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . and all are alike unto God” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33).

Any of us who might get into heaven are likely to find that many of our neighbors there grew up on earth as people of color—African Americans, Polynesians, Hispanics, Asians. If we cannot greet them as brother and sisters, “alike unto God,” then we won’t be comfortable in heaven.

 

 

 

The Promise of New Life

Pasture 2020My15 DSC01759BLEvery spring, it seems, I photograph some of the same things as I walk around our home in rural Idaho, strolling down the lane to the pastures below this small farm town. My redundant photos are a celebration of new life, a way of praising God for the beautiful gifts He keeps on giving.

Even in times of pandemic, even in times of war or disaster, even in all the times of our personal trials, each day He gives us fresh beauty and new opportunities.

I even find some delight in the bountiful crop of bright yellow flowers dotting our lawn. (Just who was it that decided dandelions are weeds?)

New green 2020My15 DSC01783 BLThe old tree outside our back door here keeps teaching me lessons. I have written about it before. In the fall, it looks like it might be done for, like this might be its last gasp. And yet each spring the tree puts forth new blossoms and new leaves.

If the old tree can keep going, I can to, until the Lord says it’s enough.

Life is a brand new gift every morning when I get out of bed.

I am reminded that many people have not been able to enjoy that gift as long as I have.

My thoughts have been troubled these past few days by reports of tragedies: two beautiful little girls swept away from their parents in a flash flood and drowned; two young women, just starting in life, drowned during an outing at a lake; a boy accidentally shot by a younger sibling; a troubled 15-year-old who decided that the gift of life was not worth keeping. My heart aches for the families in mourning. I pray that the Lord has taken those young people to Himself. I pray that His mercy and grace may cover them and they will be able to enjoy new life with Him.

Spring is a token from God of something better, a reminder of His promise that someday, through the grace of His Son Jesus Christ, we will enjoy new life with Him if we live for it now.

I pray that even now, when statistically I have lived the greater part of my mortal life, I can endure in living for that new life with Him.

 

Cramming for Finals

Peace in the scriptures.

Finding peace in troubled, worrisome times.

We are blessed, my wife and I, to have a safe haven at home right now—no illness, so far, and still able to buy food as needed. We know that so many other people are suffering, and there is heartache in knowing there is nothing we can do to help.

We are cut off temporarily from the offices where we have been doing volunteer work. Under other circumstances, we would go out and find ways to help someone else, but that could be dangerous to others and to us as well. Stuck at home like everyone else, we are trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Sitting around doing nothing would be impossible—something neither of us can tolerate. It would be mind-numbingly boring—like, looking-for-faces-in-the-patterns-on-the-floor-tile boring.

There’s no shortage of online advice about what to do—“The Eight New Shows You Have to Watch Right Now,” “The Best Movies to Stream,”  “The Best Books for When You Can’t Go Out,” etc. But in practicality some of those things get old quickly.

TV? After news programs and PBS shows, what? (By the way, why do the British shows always seem better written?)

Streaming movies? “Action” movies mean high body count and plots that range from unlikely to impossible. “Romance”? Again, unlikely plots, and too many cases of love = sex. “Edgy” independent movies? Well, they’re edgy, and who wants any kind of downer right now?

Reading? Ah, yes. There are whole libraries of good stuff online, and this has been an excellent chance to turn to some gift books I have received in the past, because now I actually have time for them. There are also some of my favorite books that warrant another look.

Books can be so much more engaging. In fiction, the theater of the mind has always been more powerful for me than movies. In philosophy, social science, and religion there is time to ponder and absorb concepts that can enrich or change my life.

2 Nephi 25:23-27

“. . . we rejoice in Christ . . .”

I’ve been spending a lot of time with the scriptures. In the Bible and the Book of Mormon— of both testifying of the crucial, eternally essential role Jesus Christ plays in our lives—I find doctrines and concepts to savor at length. In other modern scriptures and the words of modern prophets, I find elaboration and explanation that expand the intellect and feed the soul.

Certainly, I haven’t reached a level of saintliness where I spend all day pondering verses of scripture. But I’m spending a lot more time than I used to. It has something to do with what Jesus said about laying up treasures in heaven. (See Matthew 6:19-20 in the New Testament or 3 Nephi 13:19-20 in the Book of Mormon.) This seems like a good time to be looking for wisdom, and treasures of spiritual knowledge that become embedded in the eternal soul. (See James 1:5 and Luke 1:16-17 in the New Testament, or 3 Nephi chapter 17 verse 3, and Doctrine and Covenants section 109, verse 7.) In all of these verses, the Lord calls on us to learn—to store up treasures that cannot be taken from our eternal spirits by death of the mortal body.

Years ago, I read an anecdote about a child who asked, “Grandma, why do you spend so much time reading the Bible?” Grandma replied: “I’m cramming for finals.”

The time we’ve been given at home right now seems like a good opportunity to do some cramming for finals.

 

 

 

For Times of Crisis: A Silo Full of Faith

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The silo John and Ruth left full of wheat.

The silo holds almost four tons of wheat. The grain was put there more than 30 years ago by two loving people who hoped to provide food for their children’s families in case they Granary Paris 2019Oc DSC01556might face scarcity or famine someday.

Now, the wheat is probably not usable for food anymore—but what those two people left behind may be much more valuable than food.

John and Ruth were farm people. They knew years when the crops didn’t grow well or didn’t sell for enough money. They had lived through the Depression of the 1930s. They never spent money they did not have or wasted anything that might be put to good use sometime. Up in the old barn there are buckets of rusty nails and bolts that John meant to straighten out, clean up, and reuse one day.

John and Ruth were my in-laws. I learned to admire them for what they had become in life and what they were willing to sacrifice to assure a decent life for others—especially their children. Inside that silo full of grain, taped to the inner door, they left a note Granary note 2019Oc DSC01547 Sspecifying what they wanted done with the wheat. “It is here to be preserved for a time of need,” John wrote. “We do not expect to live to see the day when all of this will be used for human food, but say to our family you may take from it as needed for your use. . . . We want you to respect our wish that none of it is to be sold for monetary gain but may be traded for other food items if needed. We are dedicating this wheat to help sustain the lives of those who may need it . . . .”

The grain was accumulated from their crops over 10 years, the last bags being added in 1987. The company that bagged the wheat told them it would last “for a lifetime.”

Maybe no one anticipated that the galvanized steel granary could begin to rust out near the bottom. Rodents and deer, getting at a few of the bags through small holes at the base of the silo, have nibbled at the wheat. A nutritional expert tells us the grain is probably not good for human food anymore but might be used to feed animals.

John and Ruth had faith that they were helping provide for their descendants in the way a loving Father in Heaven wanted them to do. They wrote of scriptural and prophetic counsel to store food for a future time of need. But perhaps they did not realize what kind of food they were really leaving behind: nourishment for the spirit, in a store of faith that is strongly felt in their note. It’s impossible to read their words without being deeply moved, and without asking ourselves what we might be leaving behind for our own descendants.

Ruth was an example of service to others in their small farming community.

John became one of my models of integrity in life, since I had grown up without a father.

The two of them may not have left their family worldly wealth, but I believe no parents could have done more for their children in those circumstances. Their examples have helped mold the lives of their children and their children’s children.

Now we are living in times of crisis when there is an urgent, pressing need for faith. I have to ask myself: Have I given my children and their children an example of faith that will help to carry them through perilous times to come? Surely those times are coming. How can I help them to store up the faith they will yet need?

If I could choose one thing to leave them, it would be faith to rely on prophets and the spiritual nourishment found in the scriptures and revelations given for our day.

[NOTE: The name of this blog has been changed from Searlebration. The blog began as a way of reaching our extended family, but it has grown beyond that, and the new name better reflects the subject matter. ]

 

How Mad Are You–‘Hell Fire’ Mad?

 

Protesters 3Ag17_01717BRecently, I had a call from someone I love and respect, someone I have not talked to in two or three years. I wondered if we would be able to talk congenially. I have recently responded to some of that person’s strongly worded posts on social media with an opposing political viewpoint.

But we had a fine conversation, expressed our love for each other, and said we really should do this more often. I was grateful it went that way.

These are times of tension, turmoil, and heated commentary about what is happening in our nation’s government and what elected leaders are doing. I have my own strong feelings about developments in Washington that could do long-term damage to the United States.

But there is another national problem that concerns me even more, and so I am doing something I have tried to avoid in this blog. I am repeating a theme I touched on a short time ago: the corrosive nature of hate and anger.

Some who are heavily committed to supporting one party or another seem unable to treat people who disagree with them as human beings—as other children of God. They dehumanize people they see as opponents, and this makes it easy to hate.

Most often this dehumanization begins with labeling: “fuzzy minded liberal,” “hide-bound conservative,” “left-wing do-gooder” “right-wing bigot,” “pious hypocrite,” or “[insert religious affiliation] terrorist.” That individual who disagrees with us may be a loving parent, may do a lot of good in the community, may be a very incisive thinker. But if we give them a pejorative label, it’s easier to tell ourselves they deserve some cruel fate—public humiliation, tragedy, or even death.

These days, it might be good for many of us to review “The War prayer,” in which Mark Twain reminds Christians that wishing evil on our enemies is not a Christlike attitude.

The Master Himself warned us against contention in which we seek to condemn those who disagree with us: “. . . I say unto you that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: . . . but whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:22)

Are you in danger of hell fire?

Here are some questions that might help each of us determine whether our political thoughts could be putting us in moral danger. (And I write this knowing that I need to face need these as much as anyone else.)

Do you find yourself wishing that certain politicians of the opposing party could be publicly humiliated, punished, or socially annihilated?

Of course, you would never do anything to them, but would you be secretly pleased if something happened to shut them up?

Do you find opportunities to post cutting or critical things about others on social media? If you actually met them in person—if you sat down across a table from them to share bread—would you say those same things to that person’s face?

The man with the megaphone pictured here was a protester who showed up regularly at a large Church-sponsored religious pageant to protest. We called him “the Screamer.” He stood across the street and screamed vile and vulgar insults at church members attending the event. Much of what he said was lies, all of it intended to provoke contention. He wanted nothing more than to have someone confront or perhaps attack him, because then he could claim to be the wounded party. “See? See what they’re doing?”

In political terms, are you playing the Screamer?

It’s easy to tell yourself, “Oh, I don’t really hate them. I just hate the things they do and say.” If that’s true, then how would you explain those feelings of hoping something bad might happen to keep them quiet?

Would Jesus Christ, or the great law-giver Moses, or Mohammed—or whoever you respect as your ruling moral authority—speak of people in the same way you think of them?

I believe that modern science bears out the danger of carrying around feelings of anger and contention inside us all the time. Maybe that is one reason Jesus Christ warned us about being angry at our fellow beings. If we spend too much of our lives being angry, we will create a little bit of hell for ourselves here on earth, and we will waste time we could have used to prepare for heaven.

 

It’s Not Just Cloth. It’s an Ideal.

Topaz20190920_0026The flag pictured here flies over the site of Topaz, the detention camp where thousands of Japanese-Americans were held during World War II for no reason except their ethnicity. The fact that this camp existed is a reminder that our republic is not perfect. Topaz is one of the shameful mistakes in United States history.

Topaz name on fence

Artistry in rusty barbed wire gives a name to the barren site behind the fence.

And yet it is also a reminder that we can and should strive to do better. We cannot erase mistakes, even though we might try. After the war, almost everything was removed at this site except concrete foundations—and yet it is still here, in the memories and in the lives of families who were affected. We can never fully repay victims of injustices in our history for all that they suffered. We must resolve with them that this kind of suffering will not happen again.

Our national experiment in self-government is still young. It was not founded on rule by a familial dynasty, or some oligarchy. It was founded on rule by us—“We, the people”—and so it can still grow as we do. We need to see our country not as a nation that is mature, settled, or fading, but as a country that is still young and vital. We will still have vigorous, sometimes heated, debates about which way to go. In these debates, we must look for the light instead of heat. We are more likely to find that light in the middle of the spectrum rather than in passion or coldness at the extremes.

We need to remember that no single political party holds the key to all wisdom, and that Americans who disagree with us are not the enemy. Our enemies are those who want the American experiment to fail, who tell us we have no right to exist, who try to undermine our freedoms because freedom is a threat to their domination of people in their own countries.

Some years ago, I was strolling up a street in Rome when I saw my flag—the Stars and Stripes—rising above the trees. After a couple of weeks out of the country, I was thrilled to see it. I raised my camera and took a picture. Within seconds, an Italian policeman was at my side asking why I was taking pictures. I explained as best I could. Then, as he let me move on, I saw that the flag was flying over the U. S. embassy. In front of the building, more armed police officers were stationed behind a sandbag barrier, prepared to respond in case of attack. And I remembered that throughout the world, there are people who want to attack what our flag stands for.

It seems commonplace these days to protest injustice in our country by dishonoring its flag. But the flag still represents an ideal for me, one I learned to accept as a child: “. . . one nation, under God, indivisible.” I have watched the changes in world affairs for three-quarters of a century now. I have lived in other countries and had the privilege of traveling on six continents. And still it seems to me that the country represented by that red, white, and blue flag offers the world’s best hope for equality and justice. It’s not perfect. It may never be perfect. But it holds hope for moving in that direction.

So instead of taking a knee, how about extending a hand? I’ll give you mine. Maybe we can work together to solve some of the problems you see. Our work might be hard. We might have to learn a lot more about each other. We each might have to accept that some of our own views need to be altered.

27 Plaza4 25Au06But I’m not giving up on that “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” If we truly commit to being one nation and try to treat each other as a Heavenly Father would want His children to treat each other, we can do it.

Not seeing that ideal yet? Hang in there. Our experiment is still young.